3 Tips for More Responsive Donor Relationships


There are so many reasons to build better relationships with your donors.

Reasons like:

  • Reversing the truly discouraging rates of donor retention we see across the sector
  • Honoring generosity at every level
  • Creating long-term impact for your cause and for your donors themselves
  • It’s way more fun than sticking to one-off transactions

But how do you actually do it? How do you build and grow meaningful relationships with your donors, especially at scale?

It’s about communication, connection, and responsiveness.

Want to learn more about building better donor relationships? Check out Lynne Wester’s expert advice at the Responsive Nonprofit Summit.

“Donors need time and relationship-building,” says Lynne Wester, Principal and Founder of the Donor Relations Guru Group. “This is not an ATM.”

Be Responsive

Legacy fundraising techniques haven’t given a lot of opportunities to connect deeply with mid-level and small-gift donors. Generic mass messages, distributed with a “spray and pray” technique, don’t build relationships. We see the results in donor dropoff, with more and more of these “everyday donors” opting out of giving.

The Responsive Framework is designed to help you connect more meaningfully with more of your donors. It helps you create personalized donor experiences for every donor, not just major ones. Those relationships result in deeper ties to your organization, growing giving, and heart-changing, life-transforming generosity.

First, you listen to donors’ signals. Then, you connect with relevant messages to build trust and loyalty. Then, you suggest giving options that are the best fit. Finally, you learn from the information you’ve gained to become even more responsive.

What does that look like in practice? We have three tips for becoming more responsive with all of your donors to create better relationships and experiences.

 #1: Listen to Donor Signals to Create Donor Segments

Donors are sending you signals all the time. They’re clicking on links, visiting web pages, making gifts (or not), replying to your mailings, and of course, sometimes actually telling you things directly in surveys or communication.

Listening to these signals how you know what matters to them, what resonates, and what to offer them next. Rather than segmenting your donors solely by gift amount, consider their behavior. Look at their interests, involvement, and intent–these contain much more information about them than simply their giving capacity.

Monthly donors, for example, display a specific behavior–regular giving. As far as relationship-building goes, that behavior is the golden piece of information to respond to, not the amount of their gift. A monthly giver who gives $10 a month and a monthly giver who gives $100 a month are both engaging with the organization in a particular way and will have similar communication needs. They’re both demonstrating loyalty that needs to be recognized.

As you listen to your donors’ signals, consider:

  • How often do they give?
  • How long have they given?
  • What projects have inspired them to give?
  • How do they prefer to communicate?
  • Are they volunteers at your organization?
  • Has something changed in their giving?

#2: Connect Before You Suggest

A fundraising suggestion should come out of connection, not just because the organization needs money. No one wants to feel like the organizations they care about only see them as a walking checkbook. But if the only time you reach out to your donors is to ask for more money, you risk sending that message.

Before asking for another gift, make sure you’re thanking the donor and updating them on how their gift was used. Experts recommend donors receive seven touchpoints before they are asked for money again. Thank you messages and impact reports are an important part of those communications and help build a relationship.

Possible touchpoints include:

  • Thank you messages
  • Impact reports
  • Updates on projects they’re interested in
  • Videos
  • Educational information about the cause
  • Success stories
  • Phone calls
  • Postcards

#3: Personalize

Today’s donors expect personalized experiences. Every for-profit brand they interact with remembers their preferences, provides relevant communications, and tailors the experience to their interests. Personalizing your donor communications helps you meet this expectation.

Before you dive into segmentation and personalized communication flows, don’t skip the simple things. Do you have the correct name, with the correct spelling? Are you using their preferred communication channels? Nothing communicates, “I don’t really know you, and am not paying much attention,” than a misspelled or incorrect name, a generic “Dear Friend” salutation, or a phone call after they’ve told you they don’t want them.

Once these basics are covered, you can get more sophisticated. Marketing automation can help you personalize your donor experience at every step. As you listen to your donors’ signals, you’ll identify trends and segments, which you can build responsive donor journeys around.

For example, you might observe you have three basic behavior-driven groups of donors to connect with: brand-new first-time givers, loyal recurrent givers, and donors who are also volunteers. For each of these donor segments, you can create a journey. Think about what kinds of communications you want them to receive as you guide them into a deeper relationship with your organization, as well as towards their next act of generosity.

For the first-time givers, you may decide you want the journey to look something like this:

  • Donation receipt is issued immediately after the gift is made.
  • Thank you letter or email is sent as promptly as possible.
  • The donor is entered into a new donor welcome series of three emails, designed to introduce them to the organization and get them excited about the cause.
  • A month later, the donor receives an update on the project they donated to
  • Two weeks after that, a thank you postcard arrives in the mail.
  • When there is news about the project or program the donor gave to, the donor receives an update

Recognizing milestones is another way to personalize the donor experience and improve donor engagement. Celebrating the anniversary of their first gift and recognizing years of giving show donors that their support matters and that you’re paying attention. Likewise, if they increase their giving amount, become a monthly donor, or run a peer-to-peer campaign on your behalf, show them you’re taking note.

Personal milestones can be meaningful, too. Birthdays and other important events are another opportunity to celebrate your donors as individuals who are a valued part of your community.

Technology is Here to Help

Building better donor relationships can increase both retention and average gift size, as well as help you celebrate generosity at every level. With responsive nonprofit technology, you can build these relationships with every donor. A responsive CRM helps you listen to donor signals so you can connect in meaningful ways and offer relevant suggestions. Marketing automation allows you to communicate personally across channels, without back-office tedium or an overwhelmed staff.

Want to see how Virtuous can help you build responsive donor relationships? We’d love to show you in a demo.

Subscription philanthropy: avoid these mistakes

Subscription philanthropy: avoid these mistakes

You may not have heard the phrase “subscription philanthropy” before, but I guarantee you are aware of the subscription economy. Understanding the subscription economy and translating that to your fundraising…
Donor Retention: The Ultimate Guide for Nonprofits

Donor Retention: The Ultimate Guide for Nonprofits

Unlock higher donor retention rates with Responsive Fundraising. Learn how the right tools can deepen relationships and maximize your nonprofit's impact.

Grow generosity with Virtuous.

Virtuous is the responsive fundraising software platform proven to help nonprofit organizations increase generosity by serving all donors personally, no matter their gift size.

“Virtuous truly understands nonprofits and the importance of our mission. And their open access to data and built-in custom reports gave us access to the data we need.”
Todd Shinabarger
Chief Information Officer